No, I couldn't believe it either, but after
thinking about it for a while, I've come to the conclusion
that this new machine is a good thing. It's good for the Sinclair
brand, taking it into the nineties with a wry grin on its
monitor. It's good for the user, presenting him or her wide
a range of software unequalled by any other type of machine.
And it's certainly good for Amstrad (who bought the Sinclair
name in 1985, as it could make it the biggest manufacturer
and seller of PCs in the world, and earn it a cow-choking
wad of cash to boot. Yep, Alan Sugar is going to be positively
surfing in money this time, if he isn't already.
So why a PC? At the risk of sounding like
Barry Norman, why not? The world and his mum are buying PCs
at the moment, so why shouldn't the Sinclair brand name be
up there on the shelves among them? The PC compatible computer
is an old concept, but it's a good one, and it has one big
advantage - and any computer which has this goes on for years
and years and years. And what's this advantage? Slots! No,
I'm not being rude, I'm referring to the expansion slots inside
the computer which take expansion cards (printed circuit boards
which customise your computer to do any job you like - from
being a satellite tracking station, to a Desk Top Publishing
workstation or an arcade machine with advanced graphics).
Okay that's the theory now for the practice!!
The new Sinclair is a little black box, like all the other
Sinclairs. Okay, it's a trifle larger than its predecessors
but there are reasons for that. The computer's casing contains
a 102 key keyboard, with proper typewriter keys in black and
grey The top of the machine is slotted for ventilation, and
although you could rest the monitor on top and still get the
keyboard, it would probably break the top of the case. The
matching monitor is designed to perch behind the machine and
look over the back of it. Looking at the PC200 from the front,
there's a disk drive built into the side of the case. Surprisingly,
the drive's not of the usual Amstrad 3" type, but rather
a standard Sony 3.5". There's a good reason for this,
but I'll get onto that later. There are all the usual ports
at the rear of the machine, RS232, Centronics printer, and
an on/off switch (hoorah!), but interestingly for this class
of computer, there's also a modulator socket for plugging
into a TV set. Clean and simple lines, but a very powerful
machine. Alright let's whip it apart.
There are two different types of display. Either the CGA or
MDA. Although this will mean something to converted PC users,
it means nothing to the likes of me. Apparently all this yibbling
means that CGA is the most popular graphics standard used
by PC types. It's a 40 column x 25 line or 80 column x 25
line text in 16 colours, with 8 x 8 dot characters. Medium
resolution graphics are 320 x 200 pixels in four colours,
and high resolution is 640 x 200 with just two colours. MDA
is a way of making your Sinclair outdo the Apple Macintosh
in the monochrome stakes, with high definition 80 column x
25 line hi-res text, made up of 9 x 14 dot characters. Only
the CGA mode is available through the TV modulator.
The machine runs on MS-DOS 3.3, supplied on disk, but it can
run GEM 3 Desktop as well, for use with the mouse, to give
you a modern windows, icons and pointers programming environment.
The main processor es the popular 16 bit 8086, running at
8 Mhz, as used in the world-beating Amstrad line of PCs. (There
is a socket for an 8087 maths co-processor too making it potentially
a real number cruncher!) Yes, this is a proper 16 bit computer
with 512K RAM as standard, but this is expandable using standard
IBM or third party RAM cards. BIOS, the operating system of
the computer, is resident in ROM, which means you don't have
to load it from disk.
The stumbling block of most previous Sinclair computers has
been their keyboards. Well, this is the Professional series,
and in keeping with that image, the keyboard is the industry
standard, full travel, AT keyboard (the AT is a type of IBM
computer, in case you're wondering). The keys are tightly
arranged on the compact casing, with the cursor keys, control
and ALT keys, numeric keypad, and also a lot of IBM specific
keys, like Page Up, Page Down, Home, Delete. Insert... all
the usual stuff. Oh yes, and 10 function keys, too. The Caps
Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock keys are equipped with green
LEDs to show whether they're on or off. It's a nice keyboard,
and believe it or not, you can actually use it for typing!
WOW! There's games, if you want games. And although the software
will not be Spectrum compatible, every major company is currently
developing for the PC, and all new releases will have PC versions
right up there with the other formats. There's a public domain
library which will knock your eyes out. This is software written
by programmers, hackers and enthusiasts which they don't charge
for. It's free to anyone. And then there's the proper PC software.
People have been programming this machine for about 8-10 years,
and they know all about it. And better yet, programs for the
PC run out at about 25 per cent cheaper than other types of
computer. Because they can guarantee such high sales. You'll
never run out of programs for this machine. Ever.
Two IBM compatible slots, which can take any circuit board
in the right format, one made by IBM, one made by a third
party manufacturer, or even one made by your Uncle Fred with
a soldering iron and a transistor radio. The range of things
you can get to slot into a PC is quite staggering. Hard disks
are available on cards, 20Meg models running out at about
£300, you can even turn it into a fax machine by putting
in a fax card! This is one feature which makes the PC future
proof. If something comes along, like transputers for example,
which revolutionise computing, you can slap it in the back
of your Sinclair and off you go. Yes, you CAN get a transputer
card to put in it!
A 3.5" drive is essential in this day and age. Fewer
and fewer PCs have those clunky old 5.25" jobs, mostly
because 3" disks have twice the storage capacity of their
larger counterparts. You can add a supplementary 2.5"
or 5.25" drive, which means that you can transfer programs
from the small to large formats for carrying to work, college
or school. One of the best things about owning this computer
will be the fact that it's compatible with almost every other
PC in the world? Yep, there are billions of them and the number
is growing every day. It's like having a portable computer
in every town in the world.
There's a very bright future ahead for this line of computers.
Anyone who wants a computer, for whatever reason, games, business,
pleasure, or school, can take this machine and turn it into
anything they want. It's solidly built, reliable, cheap to
buy and cheap to run. There are three packages you can buy.
The cheapest is just the computer to connect to your TV. With
a mouse, GW-Basic, MS-DOS 3.3, GEM 3, and all the manuals,
you can walk away with it for just £299 + VAT. With
a mono monitor, joystick, a software package called Organiser
and four games, it's £399 + VAT. Add a colour monitor
instead of the mono job, and it's just £499 + VAT. I
think it's a fine computer, and I want one. Now where did
I throw that transputer card...?
PC200 Fax Box